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Parents, kids turn out to watch as lottery determines Innovation Academy enrollment

June 6th, 2012 9:46 pm by Rick Wagner

Parents, kids turn out to watch as lottery determines Innovation Academy enrollment

Cheryl Harvey with the Kingsport Board of Education announces the next number selected in the lottery for enrollment in the Innovation Academy held on Wednesday at the Eastman Employee Center. Ned Jilton II photo.

KINGSPORT — For rising Sullivan County sixth-grader Victoria Dixon and her parents, Jerry and Kathy, the news from Wednesday’s Innovation Academy lottery was good.

But for Kingsport sixth-grader James Root, the wait for a potential slot in the platform STEM school continues.

They were among 516 students seeking a spot via a random lottery in the Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee, a Kingsport/- Sullivan County science, technology, engineering and math school.

About 100 people attended the lottery drawings, which went off with no major hitches. One lottery number was misread by Sullivan County Board of Education member Dan Wells but quickly corrected and never was incorrect on the screen of the auditorium, and another few times the screen switched away from the virtual lottery app, which was run on a tablet. Wells hit the screen of the tablet to generate the numbers for the county students, while Kingsport Board of Education member Cheryl Harvey did the same for city students.

For at least the first year, students will attend the STEM school into the early afternoon and then return to a base school for related arts, including band if they are in it, and co-curricular and extracurricular activities, the latter including sports.

“She seems excited about it,” Jerry Dixon said of his daughter, who was not at the virtual drawing, which started at 5 p.m. at the Eastman Employee Center, but got the word shortly thereafter by text message.

Rising Colonial Heights Middle School student Victoria’s number was the 10th of 40 city sixth-grade numbers chosen.

A few students and families silently celebrated in the auditorium when their numbers were called out.

For privacy reasons, student names were not released, but parents received numbers recently and can check the school’s Web site,, for the winning numbers.

In addition, e-mails or calls to those without e-mail will go out to those who won, school project manager Brenda Barnicki said.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed,” Lisa Root said of her son, James, and their family. James said he was “totally” committed to going if chosen in follow-up lotteries this summer, to be held as students who won slots decide to give them up.

The deadline to cede or accept a slot is noon June 18.

“We don’t want to keep people in limbo any longer than we have to,” Barnicki said, urging those who no longer want a slot to fill out the form quickly. “We definitely expect some spots to come open.”

Reasons to opt out of the school could include a change of heart, as one student who won a slot seemed to be considering as he and his mother left the drawing, or city students not being able to play brass or percussion in sixth grade, or all Innovation Academy seventh-grade brass and percussion students having to use Sevier as their base school.

“I will keep trying until he succeeds getting in there,” Melonie Ingram said of her son, Isaac.

The family moved from Texas in December, and Isaac this fall will be heading into seventh grade at Sevier unless he gets a STEM school slot.

Isaac wants to become a chemical engineer and believes the STEM curriculum would help prepare him for that major in college.

“All of those subjects are my best. I want to become a chemical engineer,” he said.

The school will integrate STEM subjects through a curriculum that will also include English and social studies, emphasizing problem- and project-based learning with help from local industries.

It will have 40 sixth- and 40 seventh-graders each from the city and county systems the first year, growing eventually into a 6-12 school.

The 516 applicants in the lottery were split into four lotteries: one of 140 seeking 40 county sixth-grade spaces; one of 82 seeking 40 seventh-grade county spaces; one of 152 seeking 40 city sixth-grade spaces; and 142 seeking 40 city seventh-grade spaces.

The initial location when school starts Aug. 6 is the county’s former Brookside Elementary School in Bloomingdale, but it may be split between locations or move to a new location in two years, as the school likely would run out of room with the addition of ninth grade.

The hiring of the principal and teachers remains to be done, as do exact transportation plans.

City students will be in base schools of Sevier or Robinson middle schools, while county students will be in base schools of Sullivan North or Colonial Heights middle schools. Students anywhere among the county’s eight middle schools could apply, but county students have to transfer in to one of those two schools to participate in the Innovation Academy.

The school’s governing body had some concerns about the demographics of the school matching that of the parent school systems, but Barnicki said it initially appears unlikely the subsequent lotteries will need to be stratified or give preference to under-represented groups among the chosen applicants. The federal Race to the Top-funded grant, funneled through Tennessee and administered by the Battelle Memorial Foundation, requires the STEM school to mirror demographics of the parent systems.

The governing body is tracking three demographics: gender, eligibility for free or reduced-price meals and minority status.

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